Women: Get Out of Your Own Way

I have a love/hate relationship with women’s events. On the one hand, I feel more included in women’s events. Other people take the initiative and start conversations with me. At other events I attend, I feel like I’m constantly the one trying to initiate conversations and be included. On the other hand, most of the time at women’s events I want to stand up and yell “STOP BEING A VICTIM!” I feel like the recurring message is, “whoa is me, I can’t succeed because I’m a woman in business.” Some of the gender inequity can be blamed on women not getting out of their own way and changing their course.

Men aren’t the enemy: I have yet to meet a man who is actively working against the success of women. There are characteristics that many men have that help them advance their careers, but not all men. You know what? There are women with these characteristics as well – and they don’t seem to encounter the proverbial glass ceiling that the attendees at women’s events lament about. It’s not gender that is helping men get ahead, it’s their attributes. Before I list some of them, let me caveat saying these characteristics can help create success moving up the ladder, but there are other types of success in business and in our personal lives in which these attributes aren’t as helpful. If you want to advance your career evaluate whether you have:

  • Drive – success is achieved by people who see the goal and relentlessly pursue it, even in the midst of obstacles.
  • Willingness to take risks – staying where it’s safe and comfortable with no risk of failure does not help you advance. If it did, everyone would be successful. Success goes to those who are willing to try new things, break from the pack, and embrace failing because they can try again more intelligently.
  • Confidence – others follow those who display confidence. It doesn’t mean you have all the answers, but that you know that you (and your team) can be successful in the end.
  • Bravery to speak up – whether it’s in a meeting or your annual review, you have to be willing to advocate for yourself. Regardless of gender, if you aren’t heard, you won’t advance.
  • Strong self-esteem – believe in your own capability. One statistic I’ve heard is men are willing to apply for a job that is a 60% match whereas women won’t unless it’s a 95-100% match. Why are we creating fake boundaries for ourselves? I know I’m smart and learn new things, so I will go for it even if I can’t check all the boxes because I know it’s just that I can’t check them all YET. You can bet I will rise to the occasion. I trust in my ability to do so.
  • Let things go – it’s good we are continuing to grow in our emotional intelligence and that we are more empathic in the workplace. When we are conscious of how our words and behaviors impact other people and we adjust accordingly, we create a great environment to work in. However, it’s inevitable that eventually someone will speak sharp words or say something that makes us feel inadequate or undervalued. When that happens, we have to fall back on our self-esteem and confidence and let it go. As a population, men seem to let things roll off their backs and it doesn’t deter them from their goals. Women can choose to do this too! Don’t let small grievances set you back in your pursuit of success or from continuing to develop important relationships in the workplace.
  • Be strategic – put thought behind your career goals and what will get you where you want to go. Evaluate opportunities against your goals. Say “no” to the ones that don’t fit as they will take time away from opportunities that will.

Stop accepting your fate: If you want something, you have to create the opportunity to achieve it. You can’t expect to just do your job and have opportunities land on your lap. People who are successful create avenues to help them get where they want to go. They are constantly looking for new opportunities that will help them achieve their goals. Also, don’t accept “no” as an answer. At most, only accept “no” to mean “not yet” and do what you need to do to make it a yes. At one of my jobs, a program manager had to deploy overseas and I raised my hand to take on the project as the program manager. At the time, I was a senior project manager. After doing the job for 6 months, I walked into my boss’ office and asked for a promotion. I did that AFTER volunteering to do something that would help me advance. And AFTER proving I was capable of doing that job successfully. What I didn’t do was sit there and wait until my boss decided to give me a promotion. If he hadn’t have given me the promotion, I would have asked what else I needed to do to prove I deserved it. Over time, if I hadn’t been promoted, I would have gone to another department or another company. In the long run, “no” shouldn’t be acceptable.

Risk Failure: Raise your hand. Volunteer for something outside your comfort zone. Do hard things. And if you fail, learn from it. Those learnings could be the most valuable things you learn in your career.

You are the master of your own fate. Stop looking at the external forces that are in your way. Instead, look within at how you overcome the challenges you are facing and chart the course to your success. The only person standing in your way is yourself. What are you going to do about it?

Jana Axline is Chief Project Officer at Project Genetics and the author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings, she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Project Genetics.

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